I will preface this question by saying I have not read Nietzsche extensively. The one exception is his 'Genealogy of Morals', a recent read of mine, twice actually.

I always assumed Nietzsche's ideas of "the will to power" and the "Ubermensch" were inspired by Darwin's earlier writings, but I've since heard others say that Nietzsche was actually very critical of Darwinian Natural Selection (e.g. "Nietzsche's Anti-Darwinism" by Dirk Johnson). Can anyone save me reading books such as Jonhson's and explain: is there a clear consensus on whether Nietzsche actually understood Darwinian natural selection, and furthermore if he saw his own philosophy as supportive or rather as doing battle with it?

  • 2
    Here is from Notre Dame's review of Nietzsche's New Darwinism:"As even casual readers of Nietzsche will observe, the bulk of what Nietzsche has to say about Darwin and Darwinism is hostile... Nietzsche's attacks appear to get wrong both Darwin's position and the biological facts of the matter. The central motif in Nietzsche's criticism of Darwin seems to be that Darwin lays too much stress on survival, and too little on power". It seems Lamarck's evolutionism would have suited Nietzsche more.
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 22:03
  • @Conifold Thanks very much for the reference. Essentially, it seems to me that Nietzsche misunderstood Darwin's theory, that it promoted mere survival as life's main driving force, and was horrified by that idea. Instead Nietzsche simply preferred the idea of power as the dominant social virtue and shaping force, and so he promoted it by dreaming up his "will to power". Does that seem accurate? Unfair to Nietzsche?
    – Waterman
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 23:48
  • It is always hard to peg Nietzsche. His primary focus was social and cultural, and popular in the late 19th century glosses of those with the biological evolution are prone to lead to misconstruing both. Social Darwinism was one way of doing it, Lamarckian anthropomorphic wills (to power or Schopenhauer's will to life or Bergson's élan vital) were another. Human cultural evolution may be driven by non-biological forces to which Nietzsche's insights are more applicable, but if we take it on bio-Darwinian terms the will to power becomes epiphenomenal at best. Hence Nietzsche's hostility.
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 0:31
  • @Conifold Nietzsche is indeed hard to peg, and judging by his writing style it's as if he wanted it that way. Nowhere in the G of M does he offer any evidence for his ideas. Instead he tells a metaphorical tale of 3 social classes: the nobles, priests, and plebians. While I found it interesting from a literary perspective, not for one second did I find it the least bit convincing. To my eyes it lacks any explanatory power on the true "genealogy of morality". And all the while he poo poos a man as meticulously precise as Darwin? It just seems incredibly lazy to me. Your thoughts?
    – Waterman
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 1:36
  • 1
    Also relevant: G.Moore, Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor (2002), page 3: "Nietzsche’s own writings bear witness to the extraordinary cultural impact of the biological sciences in the late nineteenth century. His work demonstrates not only a life-long fascination with the mechanisms of progress and decline, but also, his attacks on Darwin notwithstanding, a profound interest in the far-reaching implications of the modern evolutionary world-view for the traditional areas of philosophical inquiry." Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 14:22

2 Answers 2


Nietzsche was well aware of the epoch-making achievement of Darwin but considered it as too one-sided because he misunderstood natural selection as a poor necessity and not as a plentiful supply. In the “Fröhlichen Wissenschaft” he calls Darwinism the last great scientific movement in Europe and remarks that he thinks Darwinism is true although he also mentions the horrible consequences of Darwinism. (Kritische Gesamtausgabe Band III, 4 – 19,132).

In general Nietzsche had a rather negative attitude toward Darwinism: Darwin has forgotten the mind or spirit. The influence of the external constraints is strongly overestimated by Darwin. Contrary to the quote above he also claimed that the Darwin's school has erred everywhere.

So we get an ambivalent picture of Nietzsche's understanding of Darwinism. More original quotes (in German) can be found here.

  • 1
    Darwinian evolution effectively laid the foundation for a new mainstream belief system to replace the dangerously dated theism with something more modern and convincing. And Nietzsche was the exact opposite of a conformist, he could not possibly go with that flow, even if it contained a few good bits common sense agrees with. It is way to often that I hear people say "I believe in Darwinian evolution" and it never sounds right.
    – dtech
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 20:47

Eugenics; To generate "good" ("eu"), one should select for the most apt. Politically implemented eugenics came straight out of the idea of the "selection of the fittest" (Spencer, a Darwin associate, dixit). Selection of the fittest had supposedly given birth to the human species, according to Darwin, the way Nietzsche saw it... That explanation denied the will to power of the human species as a driver of evolution... Opting for cancellation instead. Nietzsche hated all that.

Nietzsche was not naive. He understood that "good" was dependent upon how it was defined by particular tribes or types, and he hated many of these definition of "good' which often embraced what he viewed as inferior, and, or, slave morality. In particular, gross, base, anti-Semitic, anti-French and anti-Slavs German commons... who had inverted all values, and were preparing monstrous wars.

The fanatical racists wanted to expel the Jews from Germany. Thus Nietzsche saw how "Darwin" was exploited, and counter-argued that the anti-Semites were obviously inferior, so should be expulsed instead of the Jews.

As Nietzsche predicted that mentality brought horrible wars. The Nazis used that "Darwinism" as the "scientific" basis that they were looking for to have an excuse to cancel others.

This being said, the best ideas on evolution attached to Nietzsche, Lamarck, and Darwin are still in place to suggest further advances in the theory of evolution. The force towards complexification of Lamarck is still a star guiding the will of many specialists of evolution. We even have now a mechanism in place: the (weak) hydrogen bonds of DNA modified by variegated quantum environment (in particular from the exertion of will).

In any case, even hard core Darwinists admit that the will of conscious subjects influence sexual selection, thus evolution. So Nietzsche won them over, in some sense.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .